The interaction between parents could have an impact on the oral health of their children, researchers from the New York University College of Dentistry have found. A greater incidence of verbal or physical aggression between partners correlated with increased oral health problems in children. The researchers are now developing an intervention for couples whose relationship discord may impact the oral health of their infants.
Mental health has much to do with dental health, according to Professors Richard Heyman and Amy Smith Slep, psychologists and co-directors of the Family Translational Research Group within the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care at NYUCD. Heyman and Smith Slep aim at understanding how psychological factors affect oral health, especially in relation to the causes of early childhood caries.
For the study, the researchers collected data on nearly 150 families. They took blood and saliva samples, conducted physical exams, and administered questionnaires. The researchers found that children whose parents were verbally or physically aggressive towards each other were more likely to suffer from oral health problems.
“There are two hypotheses about how oral health is affected by parental discord,” Heyman said. “First, lax supervision of children, as an outgrowth of discord, directly impacts children in that they eat sugary cereals and beverages, and do not brush. The second is a biological response. There is strong research showing that family conflict and stress affect the immune system.”
“Lax parenting may be an even stronger influence on tooth decay than violent behavior,” said Dr. Mark Wolff, professor and chair of the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care and associate dean for Predoctoral Clinical Education at the NYUCD, who was also involved in the study. “Allowing children to eat sugary food is something seen even among well-educated people. We have to understand the psychological causation of tooth decay to prevent it. A simple lecture on brushing isn’t going to improve things. You have to change parenting behaviors.”
Heyman, Smith Slep and Wolff have now teamed up with Dr. Ananda Dasanayake, professor of Epidemiology and Health Promotion, to adapt and test an intervention, developed in Australia, for couples whose relationship discord may impact the oral health of their very young children.
This project is the first to intervene with new parents at multiple levels to prevent childhood caries. It is hoped that, by improving noxious family environments, instilling daily oral health-promoting behaviors in children, and encouraging parents to bring the child to regular dental checkups, the children’s early oral health will be demonstrably better than is typical.
For the testing currently being conducted, up to 30 families are being recruited from maternity wards at Bellevue Hospital Center and Stony Brook University Hospital in New York. The researchers are seeking families whose newborn children are already considered at high risk for poor oral health owing to low family incomes, parents who have no more than a high school education, and at least one non-European American parent. Couples who participate will watch DVD segments on conflict resolution and healthy parenting. They will also be assigned a coach, who will check in and help them improve their conflict-resolution and parenting skills. Additionally, they will complete a workbook that reinforces those messages with exercises.
The couples’ intervention takes place over eight sessions, timed to intersect with the developmental stages of their infant, from three to 12 months. This timing covers the period of tooth eruption and transition to recommended dental visits. It also covers both the newborn and toddler periods, and allows families breaks between sessions and time to review material and solidify their skills. To examine the impact on oral health, dental exams will be performed on the children at 15 months.
The researchers will look for early childhood caries and contributing factors, such as bacteria and salivary hormones related to stress.
Orignal Source: Dental Tribune International